Muslim Keith Ellison Seeks House Seat
By Patrick Condon

Keith Ellison is hoping that his city of mostly white Christians is ready to make a black Muslim its next congressman.
Ellison, a state representative and criminal defense lawyer, is the state-party endorsed Democratic candidate in the liberal-leaning 5th Congressional District. That makes him the favorite in his quest to become the first Muslim member of Congress.
But Ellison is dogged by questions about his faith, particularly after disclosures about his past associations with the Nation of Islam, a group led by Louis Farrakhan.
While Ellison has since denounced Farrakhan, Jewish leaders say the candidate's ties to the organization remain an issue.
"For Jews, there's no ambiguity when it comes to the Nation of Islam," said Stephen Silberfarb, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. "It's a group that hates the Jewish people."
Around 1990, Ellison - then a University of Minnesota law student known as Keith E. Hakim - wrote several columns in the student newspaper that are getting a second look.
One column defended Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism; a second suggested the creation of a state for black residents. In 1995, Ellison helped organize a delegation to Farrakhan's Million Man March in Washington.
Ellison, 42, said he was never an enrolled member of the Nation of Islam. He got involved to help improve the lives of black men, he said, and did not fully grasp concerns about Farrakhan's anti-Semitism until after the 1995 march.
"There are legitimate concerns in the Jewish community. That's why I'm happy to answer them," Ellison said. But, he added, "I do also think there are people out there who are fear-mongering, who are trying to scare the Jewish community and manipulate this issue." . . .
Sumbal Mahmud, a corporate lawyer and spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Minnesota, said the years since the Sept. 11 attacks have been difficult for Muslims in America, and Ellison's candidacy is an important sign on the road back to acceptance.
"Hopefully it will mobilize the Muslim community to become more engaged in civic life," she said. "We all need to see politicians who speak to our own experiences."
(Courtesy Associated Press, 6/29/06)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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